Many don’t know that when the North Texas Commission was started in 1971 it was chartered as a Texas nonprofit corporation to market the Dallas Fort Worth Regional Airport — now known as Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
“The airport, DFW, would not be where it is today without the support of the North Texas Commission” DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue said, adding that the success of the airport is also due in part to the people who came together to help it succeed not as a Dallas or a Fort Worth airport, but as a regional Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
“I am blessed that between Mayor [Betsy] Price and Mayor [Mike] Rawlins they genuinely believe in the regional approach, they genuinely see the benefits,” Donohue said.
Because of the NTC’s history with the airport, it was no surprise that Donohue was selected as the keynote speaker for this year’s NTC annual member luncheon.
Donohue has 28 years of airline industry experience and has been with DFW Airport since October of 2013. As CEO, Donohue manages the operations and developments of the airport — which is hailed as the fourth-busiest airport in the world — and its 1900 employees.
Focusing on the airport’s regional, nationwide and international impacts, infrastructure and future, Donohue began his time remarking on the recent addition of two Icelandic Airlines to the airport.
“It caught us off guard,” Donohue said. “I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t high on our list of destinations. [But] Iceland is the hottest place to fly to from DFW right now.”
Iceland is a country of about 350,000 people, yet it brings 2.5 million visitors each year, Donohue said.
Iceland-based WOW Air announced its DFW service on Sept. 6, adding that as of May 24, 2018 the airline will offer three weekly flights from Dallas to Reykjavik on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Read more about WOW Air in our article: https://goo.gl/yNcWTr.
Additionally, Iceland-based Icelandair announced it will offer DFW service next May as well, beginning May 30, 2018. The airline will offer a Dallas to Reykjavik flight four times per week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Read more about Icelandair in our article: https://goo.gl/7zRAa2.
Donohue said that long haul international flights bring in a lot of an airline’s revenue, and DFW will continue to offer incentives to being in and grow its international service. He said that DFW has given more than $30 million to airlines in incentives to bring their international service to the terminals.
He also added that the airport’s global cargo network — including 17 dedicated cargo carriers — is important in attracting both international and stateside business.
During his address, Donohue addressed three key aspects of the airport: how it is doing currently, the future and the strategic plan, and the infrastructure and investment plan for the next 5-10 years.
Donohue explained that, globally, travel and tourism make up 10 percent of the world’s GDP and supports 10 percent of the world’s jobs — that’s seven times more jobs than the automotive industry, three times more than the banking industry and two times more than financial services.
Here in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, the airport has an important economic impact, too. DFW Airport brings in $37 billion annually and both directly and indirectly supports 225,000 jobs, paying out $12 billion just in payroll. The airport also plans to invest $2-3 billion in the airfield infrastructure over the next couple years. And because the airport is self-sustaining, not only does it not take in any tax revenue, but it generates $10 million annually for the owner and host cities around it.
“To give us the ability to grow over the airport over the past 45 years was truly visionary,” Donohue said. “We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that vision from both our host and owner cities.”
DFW includes 45 miles of runways and taxis across seven runways, 130 bridges and 1,200 lane miles of roadway with about 50,000 vehicles on airport roadways every day. Donohue said hopefully sometime soon DFW Airport will be able to complete and release its new terminal plan, which will showcase the airport’s future.
DFW partners with more than 60 organizations across North Texas, and Donohue says the success of the airport depends on a symbiotic relationship with the community. In fact, he said, 120 companies were involved in the production of Terminal E, which was recently completed.
Currently, DFW offers 220 non-stop destinations — 57 world-wide and the rest domestic — and serves, on average, 175,000 customers daily, Donohue said. He added that the airport is on track to have served a total 67 million customers at the end of 2017, and could be serving as many as 100 million customers annually by the end of the next decade.
With discussion of Amazon’s next headquarters and Dallas-Fort Worth’s pitch to house it, the number of people in and around Dallas-Fort Worth and traveling could increase even more than those projected numbers, and Donohue had this to say.
“If it makes sense, we will do everything we can to be a part of that proposal that goes forward in the next few months. We are proud to play a role in that,” Donohue said. “Amazon has 2.5 million square feet of warehouse and logistics space on DFW airport, without those type of warehouse and logistic centers we wouldn’t be successful as we are from a cargo perspective.”
Going forward, to not only make the airport better but to continue to bring business and tourism to North Texas, DFW Airport’s strategic plan includes three parts.
The first part is a foundation of safety and security, Donohue explained, adding that “if you look at probability risk at an airport in the U.S., risk is on the security side, not the safety side.”
The second part includes four pillars, business performance, employee engagement, operational excellence and community engagement. And the final part is making the customer experience at DFW the airport’s top priority.
Donohue said the airport has already spent $2 billion redoing terminals A and B, and have spent time working with TSA and other security partners to increase and improve security areas with equipment like automated TSA security lanes — to be rolled out in many DFW checkpoints over the next year — which Donohue says will increase throughput by 30 percent.
Additionally, DFW offers in-terminal self-service information kiosks and an app to help customers have all the information they need at their fingertips. To help with the need for technology and connectivity, Donohue announced that the DFW Airport Board recently gave its approval to put up to 3,000 power outlets in terminals across the airport.
Donohue also added that DFW airport is working with all partners on making the international terminals and customs and border patrol experiences as streamlines and easy as possible for travelers. Donohue says the airport is also working with partners on implementing the use of biometric facial technologies to improve the customer experience and increase safety.
Donohue explained that in 2016 DFW was voted No. 1 in customer service in North America in the large airport category, and that it’s important the airport balance its advances in technology with investments in the people who work there as well.
“On the customer side, you have to balance the technology, the investment, with people,” Donohue said. “We are going to continue to invest in the people side of customer service, as well as the technologies and other investments.”
Donohue added that, as far as he is aware, DFW is the only airport to have a customer operations center which monitors checkpoint, baggage claim and terminal issues and experiences. The center also has dedicated analysts to calculate where issues could arise so the airport can not only be reactive to any problems, but proactive.
“While we will always respect the past, and we’ll always pay attention to the present, we’re really focused to the future,” Donohue said.